FORT DODGE, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst expressed frustration Monday that it took President Donald Trump two days to specifically condemn white supremacy after deadly violence at a rally in Virginia.
"Finally!" the Iowa Republican told reporters, referencing Trump's condemnation of white nationalist groups — including the Ku Klux Klan — two days after a woman protesting the groups was killed in Charlottesville.
Speaking to about 100 people at a middle school in northwest Iowa, Ernst called Trump's latest statement "strong" but added, "I wish he would have been right out of the game with that."
The freshman Republican, a rising national figure in the party, said Trump has been quick to voice his opinions on Twitter but shouldn't have taken so long to denounce what the Justice Department is investigating as an act of domestic terrorism.
"We do want a quick response," said Ernst, whom Trump met with in 2016 as he was weighing his choice of running mate. "I'm hopeful that — should anything like that ever occur again — that the president would be right out there saying, 'this is not OK.'"
Ernst followed fellow Republican senators, including Colorado's Cory Gardner, who implored Trump for a direct denunciation of white supremacist groups Sunday. But Ernst's political course is trickier than Gardner's because she represents a state Trump carried last year by a healthy margin.
However, the Des Moines Register's July Iowa Poll showed a majority of Iowans disapproving of the president's performance, due mostly to a spike in dissatisfaction from independent voters.
Ernst has been a loyal supporter of most of Trump's agenda, though she was quick to point out times when she has disagreed with the president.
This month, she opposed Trump's decision to bar transgender Americans from serving in the military. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, she also has urged Trump to take a tougher stance on Russia's military and cyber interference in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Still, she supported the president's withdrawal from the Paris climate accord in June, and has said she wants the Senate to continue to pursue repeal of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Trump had expressed that desire too, despite Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's decision to move on after the GOP-controlled Senate failed to advance such legislation last month.
"It is imperative we not simply walk away from our effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare," Ernst wrote to McConnell this month, echoing Trump's public pronouncements toward the Kentucky Republican.
And yet, Ernst told the audience the fate of the United States rests with the success of the president, like him or not.
"I may not support everything that Donald Trump says, but he is my president and he is your president," she said.